by Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair, with
input from Gerry Smith. April 2013
Is it hypocritical to decry fossil fuel use and then
disparage an alternative energy source like wind
power? The answer is complicated and depends on
priorities. Corporations, of course, wish to make
a profit no matter what externalities result from
this goal. The consumer wants cheap electricity.
Environmentalists want to curb Global Warming.
And last, but not least, birds and bats simply wish
to survive. Unfortunately, the life forms with the
smallest voices are caught in the crossfire.
Most of us realize the importance of bats for their
roles in pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control.
Unfortunately, thousands are killed by wind turbines
every year. In fact, according to the Pennsylvania
Game Commission, in that state alone, wind turbines
killed more than 10,000 bats in 2010 (1). Because the
average reproductive rate is only one or two young
per year, losses to certain bat species may not be
We all know that birds are killed by wind turbines, but
soon it may become even easier to obtain permission
to do this. Currently, there is a proposal on the table
to change an important rule that protects eagles by
rushing to get it approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service before the new Secretary of the Interior takes
charge. At this time, corporations may obtain permits
that kill a limited number of eagles, but the permits
must be renewed every five years. However, “… at
the request of wind industry lobbyists, the federal
government has now proposed making the permits
good for 30 years! That means 30 years without the
possibility for public review of the permit.” (2) If this
were to happen, environmental organizations might
finally raise a fuss at the national level.
Locally, answers are still “blowing in the wind” in
the Jefferson County part of the OAS service area.
Here, and in nearby Canada, several wind projects are
proposed for the critical flyway along the eastern and
northeastern part of Lake Ontario. In our opinion the
fact that these large scale projects are even still being
considered for such sensitive areas is a testimony to
the arrogance and stubbornness of their proponents.
In the town of Cape Vincent, at the junction of the St.
Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, those wonderful
environmentalists, British Petroleum, are seeking an
Article 10 approach to override town law. Article 10 is
a power plant siting bill passed by the state legislature
in the middle of the night a couple of years ago. In
addition to being highly undemocratic in its manner
of enactment, this legislation can override local home
rule. While we will not know the outcome of this
procedure in Cape Vincent for about a year, there are
reasons to be concerned. In addition to being the worst
kind of “greenwashing” on BP’s part, any project in an
area with very sensitive bird and bat resources should
be of great concern to true environmentalists. Another
proposed project in Jefferson County, Horse Creek,
threatens grassland birds, bats and rare alvar natural
communities. This projects time frame is longer than
the Cape Vincent project’s, but still requires careful
monitoring. In nearby Canada, a turbine complex at
Ostrander Point is a terrible proposal being close to
Prince Edward Point, a migration concentration area
of great importance.
We are sure that some reading this article will not
agree with these concerns and will cite the need for
“green energy.” While we are in complete agreement
that we need alternative energy to reduce further
climate change, these projects will do more harm than
good. Industrial wind is far more about corporate tax
breaks and profits than it is about alternative energy.
Did you know that something called the production
tax credit (PTC) provides wind energy producers
with 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity
produced? The PTC “provides a subsidy to the wind
industry that is at least 12 times greater than that
provided to the oil and gas sector and 6.5 times greater
than that provided to the nuclear industry.” (3) With
an incentive like this and lack of meaningful siting
guidelines beyond voluntary ones, is it any wonder
that energy companies are scrambling to grab all the
land they can? Responsible corporate citizens would
not consider placing habitat-disrupting bird and bat
Cuisinarts in areas where these projects are proposed.
What we see in the North Country and Canada are
stubborn corporate entities backed by either selfinterested
and/or misguided citizens who care little for
impacts on other organisms.
We applaud the citizens and local government of the
Town of Hammond, St. Lawrence County. Through
wise land use decisions concerned about the long-term
future of their community, they developed limits on
wind power. Apparently these reasonable restrictions
were not to the liking of the corporate sponsors of
the project who took their toys and went home. Cape
Vincent’s leaders have endeavored to do the same but
BP persists in trying to thwart local home rule. Gosh,
for those who viewed the conduct of this corporate
entity during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, such conduct
sure does come as a great SURPRISE?
These comments do not necessarily reflect those
of the OAS board. When one considers kW output,
destruction of critical habitat, cost of subsidies to the
taxpayer, and appalling lack of placement guidelines
and regulatory oversight, industrial wind power is a
highly problematic energy source. Dispersed small
tower personal wind power appears a good idea,
but giant multinational corporations cannot make a
fortune on that. In his 20s and 30s, Gerry Smith fought
nuclear power with a passion. In those days none of
us (except for, maybe, Al Gore) had heard of global
climate change. Currently, and understanding all its
downsides, the only ways to meet energy matters of
the next 50 years are conservation, efficiency and, per
Mr. Smith’s next bumper sticker – MORE NUKES.
Victory for Home Rule Over Industrial Wind -At Least for Now
Several years ago, residents of the Town of Hammond rid themselves of wind-lease-holding public officials and revised the “Wind Energies Facilities Law.” Their intent was to “set laws that would ’ensure that public health, safety, and welfare will not be jeopardized’ by the building of wind turbines” (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663).
Not everyone was pleased with this action. Toward the end of 2011, a lawsuit was brought against the Hammond Town Board by several leaseholders and the developer, Iberdrola. They filed an Article 78 petition against the board because they felt that the revised law “discriminated against landowners who had contracts in place prior to the law being past (sic) and it set unreasonable restrictions on developers” (http://www.wind-watch.org/news/?p=25379).
After months of review, State Supreme Court Judge David R. Demarest dismissed the case. He determined that the Hammond wind law is not arbitrary or capricious and follows a ‘well-considered and comprehensive plan which serves the residents’ (http:// wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663). Why is this important? This ruling may be applied to future lawsuits. Specifically, the Hammond legal victory “set precedent for any attempt by British Petroleum or their wind lease holders who might want to file similar Article X action against the Town of Cape Vincent” (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663).
Under Article X, electric generating facilities of 25 megawatts or higher are eligible for an override of local laws. Because the $300 million Cape Vincent Wind Farm project could supply more than 285 megawatts of power, it would be able to challenge the town’s recently proposed zoning laws (http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20120721/NEWS03/707219860).
According to the revised regulations, setbacks for commercial turbines must be:
- Six times the total height of the proposed structure from the nearest residence, the nearest project boundary line, boundaries of adjacent towns and any road and property line.
- Two miles from the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River waterfronts.
- 1.25 miles from the boundaries of the Village of Cape Vincent and hamlets of Rosiere, Millens Bay and St. Lawrence Corners; Route 12E; Seaway Trail; National Scenic Byways and schools.
- Audible spectrum noise limits ranging from 35 decibels to 45 decibels were also set for night, evening and day (watertowndailytimes.com).
On July 21, board members listened to comments from residents on the new zoning and on their Comprehensive Plan. Most people who offered comments were in favor of the strict limitations for turbine placement. Many residents, especially the retired and seasonal population, oppose wind farms because of visual pollution and noise, property devaluation, and potential health problems. On the other hand, some struggling farming families wanted fewer restrictions because they needed the additional revenue wind turbines on their land would bring.
One thing that did not sit well with Cape Vincent Town Board members was that BP had failed to notify them of their plans to increase the wind project by 43% from the original size. Town officials learned of the expansion plans secondhand from a letter that BP sent to the Public Service Commission.
BP Wind Energy hopes to get around the local restrictions proposed for wind turbines and expedite the approval of the Cape Vincent project by submitting an application to a state siting board under Article X of the 2011 Power NY Act (watertowndailytimes.com). In their opinion, the ‘local community should bear the burden of proof to demonstrate why the more restrictive requirements are appropriate’ (watertowndailytimes.com).
But the Zoning Law Rewrite Committee was prepared. Although their objectives included preserving the rural character of Cape Vincent and preventing property values from plummeting, their main goal was to preserve local control. According to Committee Chairman Bob Brown, ‘Our goal was to write an addendum for the zoning law that the Article X board would not find unreasonable. We can justify each one of the requirements that we put in based on health, safety, science, and technology’ (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25287).
The Town Board of Cape Vincent hopes to adopt the revised zoning law by early August.
For information about birds and wind development, we recommend the following sources:
In the near future, Gerry Smith will be adding a blog commentary on the ecological impacts of industrial wind power in our region.
Contributed by Maryanne Adams, July 2012
The Impact of Industrial Wind Complexes
While not as destructive as hydro-fracking, Industrial wind complexes have severe impacts on birds and bats and other aspects of the natural world. These impacts intensify when projects are placed in inappropriate locations such as sites where migrant birds concentrate, areas with concentrations of raptors or other sensitive areas. Areas near/in the Great Lakes, along mountain ridges and in/on ocean coastlines are questionable sites for such projects. We applaud the decision of the New York Power Authority to abandon its GLOW (Great Lakes Offshore Wind) project in lakes Erie and Ontario. Unfortunately onshore projects are still planned for areas close to Great Lakes shorelines. Based on data from the Wolfe Island Ontario project and many other factors, New York should reconsider and eliminate all projects within 5 miles of our two Great Lakes or St. Lawrence River. The more we learn about current industrial wind projects that use large horizontal turbine designs the more questions are raised. While these projects may provide alternatively generated power they are definitively not “Green” in any true sense. Much more technical development, design change, ecological impacts assessment and other study is required before turbine complexes are placed in ecologically sensitive areas.
by Gerry Smith